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Former Tennessee Titan Eddie George traded his football helmet for a top hat when he visited Nashville’s Robert E. Lillard Elementary for a student performance of The Aristocats a few months ago. Towering above the children, George was gleeful while joining them in singing along to tunes from the Disney classic about fancy felines.
The NFL legend is making the rounds at Metro Nashville schools in his new role as advocate for TPAC Education. Calling the experience “eye opening,” George is thoroughly impressed by the student productions. “A lot of them are really talented,” he says, “especially in terms of how far along they are as actors and singers.”
The Aristocats production was part of TPAC’s Disney Musicals in Schools program, which provides performance licenses to schools at no cost to them. It also offers resource materials and support from TPAC staff and professional teaching artists.
George is encouraging students to not only think outside the box, but to also eliminate the box altogether.
“Don’t be afraid to step out there in a new way,” he says. “Break the stigma that the arts are only for females. They’re not. I think athletes should be able to do it, too. It really prepares you for so much: doing business presentations, public speaking, interviews. You really become comfortable in your own skin, in terms of telling your own story or the story of someone else, because it gives you confidence. Delving into the arts is a foundation for you to have a great deal of self-confidence and be creative.”
When he was growing up in Philadelphia, George shied away from the arts, as he wanted to focus on sports. But, his mother enrolled him and his sister in dance and theatre classes anyway. Looking back, George says the lessons created a “lasting impact.” After his football career ended, his exposure to the arts early on became a “lifeline” to new opportunities.
“Once I explored acting, it resonated with me on a spiritual level, because I was able to channel a lot of the doubt, the fear, the uncertainty, and anxiety through the works of a playwright or the eyes of a character,” he says. “It was very therapeutic for me. It was healing. And, as a result of that, I found a true love and passion for storytelling on stage, in front of the camera, and even within my own speeches. In so many ways, it was a conduit for now doing my next life’s work.”
George made the transition from field to stage by getting involved with Nashville’s theater scene. It has taken him places he never expected, particularly his Broadway debut in Chicago The Musical earlier this year.
“It really helps me in my own craft when I’m able to go speak to these kids and see what they are doing,” he says. “I give them advice about what I’ve learned and am still learning in this profession. It’s a give and take, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Students involved in the arts are four times more likely to achieve academic success, often earning higher scores than students without arts exposure. Low-income students highly engaged in the arts are more than twice as likely to graduate from college as those with no arts education. Source: Americans for the Arts